Hundreds of mourners gather for funeral of Cayce veteran, contractor killed in Afghanistan

03/19/2013 12:00 AM

03/19/2013 7:06 AM

Retired Sgt. First Class Inez “Renee” Odom-Baker of Cayce was remembered on Monday for her dedication as a soldier, her love for her family and her commitment to sharing the word of God with others.

Baker, who retired Oct. 31 after 26 years in the U.S. Army, was killed four months later on March 8 in Afghanistan while working as an intelligence analyst for a private contracting company.

Baker had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan seven times beginning with the First Gulf War. Even after retirement, she felt compelled to return to Afghanistan, her best friend in the Army, Capt. Maxenia Bowers, said after her funeral on Monday.

“She felt she was on a mission and had to go back,” said Bowers, of Beaufort County.

There have been 43 members of the U.S. military with ties to South Carolina killed in Afghanistan. Another 64 military members with ties to the state have been killed in Iraq.

Baker, 51, was killed when three men dressed in Afghan national guard uniforms rammed a Humvee into the gate of the forward operating base in northeastern Afghanistan and opened fire. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded before the attackers were killed, the Associated Press reported.

Hundreds of friends and family members gathered at the Kingdom Vision Church in north Columbia to celebrate her life, including her sons, Larry K. Mitchell Jr. and Andre Odom of Cayce, and sisters, Michelle Good of Cayce and Karen Tucker of Lexington.

Burial with full military honors was held at Fort Jackson National Cemetery in Columbia.

“She had a heart of gold but the heart of a soldier,” the Rev. Samuel L. Richardson Jr., said in a tribute. “She will ever be remembered as a soldier.”

Baker began her Army career as a nurse and retired working in military intelligence. When she was killed, she was working as an intelligence analyst for BAE Systems, a London-based global defense contractor which provides a wide range of services to the U.S. military. A large contingent of BAE’s Arlington, Va.-headquartered subsidiary, including the company’s president and CEO, attended the funeral.

Baker was hired “to support and augment our intelligence operations,” said Jack McCracken, BAE’s director of counter-IED global analysts. “I thought we were lucky to have such a combat professional on our team.”

Evangelist Veronica Riley of Kingdom Vision church and Baker’s cousin, said that Baker was a devout Christian who led prayer meetings and was always urging others to repent. She told the crowd that Baker was now happy and residing with her maker.

“Her mission was to serve her country and serve her God,” Riley said. “Now the war is over. The victory has been won.”

Gov. Nikki Haley ordered flags statewide to be flown at half-staff to honor Baker.

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